The gut instinct – that silent warning that jolts you around the midriff at the first sign of danger. Sub-conscious recognition that something, or somebody is not quite right. It’s never let me down except when I’ve ignored it, which I have done to my cost.

We recently hosted a working guest under the Workaway scheme. She contacted me asking if she could stay with us for a week to ten days in exchange for helping in our garden. When I looked at her profile on-line, gut instinct reacted with a loud warning bell. An eerily disturbing photograph of a single, 51-year-old woman.

But she was in a predicament, and we could use some help, so after numerous phone calls from her, I agreed she could come to us. Even while I was speaking to her I knew, in the back of my mind, I was making a mistake.

gut instinct

I know I can say with honesty that we are kind and generous people, and we worked hard to make her stay with us enjoyable. And it was hard work. She was a particularly fussy eater and a cold personality, and I found her presence deeply uncomfortable. Nevertheless she stayed for a week and did some gardening work and became a little more relaxed, even appearing friendly. We went far beyond the usual terms of the working guest arrangement, taking her out to a restaurant, driving her around sightseeing and giving her unlimited use of my personal computer.

During that week we received a phone call to say my son was critically ill in England. She seemed very sympathetic as news came that his condition was deteriorating.

On the day she left, we drove her to the airport, where she thanked us profusely and said how kind we had been, and what a pleasure it had been to stay with us.

The following day, I left to go to England to be with my son at the hospital. During that time our guest wrote a friendly little email asking if I would leave feedback for her on the Workaway site. Feedback is important for both guests and hosts, as it gives others an idea of what to expect. I immediately left generous feedback, without mentioning any of the difficulties we had experienced with her. I noticed she did not reciprocate.

After five extremely distressing days, my son died and I had to return home to France.

There I found an email from the Workaway administrators saying they had received a report of a worrying incident, from an ‘informant’ who wished to remain anonymous. As our recent guest was the first for eight months, it was clearly her.

The ‘worrying incident’ was something that any normal person would have laughed off, and was dismissed after I had spent considerable time outlining the behaviour of the woman during her stay with us, and referring to the glowing feedback from all our previous guests.

Had I only take the advice of gut instinct, I would not have had to deal with the malice of this sad and spiteful creature who, despite being aware of what a terrible time this was for our family, deliberately added to our grief. Surely a low in human behaviour.

I wish I’d trusted that gut instinct. I hope you do, too. It’s a gift given to you for a reason.

An interview

The English Informer in France magazine kindly invited me to do an interview with them.

And here it is. :)  The magazine is crammed with interesting articles on every topic you could name. Well worth having a look.

Starting this Friday, over the next few weeks they will be publishing extracts from my travel books and memoir, on their

Café Pause page.

Don’t forget to have a look. :)

Poisonous you are, and beautiful too.

The project for our photography club today was close-ups and macro shots of flowers. Members brought in lovely specimens of tulips, irises, bluebells, chrysanthemums (also known as “kiss aunty’s bum” according to one member) :D, and all kinds of wild flowers.

I had a strange problem with my camera, I don’t know what it was up to, but it fought tooth and nail not to focus and was generally uncooperative. None of my shots came anywhere near capturing the beauty of the flowers as well as everybody else, but I did get a few that I was pleased with, and they were all of a stunning hellebore.

This is the one I thought came out best. Its soft focus and grainy texture make it look like a painting (I think).


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Warning! Book Thief – Make Sure Someone Else isn’t Profiting off Your Book


Watch out, there’s a thief about!

Originally posted on :

Do not trust this site:

http://www.urbookdownload.com One of my author clients just informed me that her book was illegally downloaded by this online company. If you have a book in the marketplace make sure these guys aren’t taking your hard-earned money! If they are, go immediately to your writer’s union/guild/club (e.g. SFWA, RWA, etc.) and they will help you fight this! If you have DRM (Digital Rights Management) then get it working for you. MJ

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Junk junkies and a naughty little bit

When my step-mother said that we would replace my outgrown jodhpurs with a pair from The Thrift Shop in Nairobi, I was aghast. I’d never been to The Thrift Shop, but I knew it was about second-hand clothes! Other people’s cast-offs. Tatty old rags with tears and stains. We were very comfortably-off, but my step-mother was ever one to count every cent. How humiliating! What if somebody we knew saw us in there?

The first person we knew who saw us was my school English teacher, and the next person one of my school friends with her mother. The teacher was buying a flowery and floaty chiffon dress, and my school friend’s mother was buying her a school uniform to replace the one she’d outgrown. None of them seemed to be the least embarrassed at being seen there. They had no need to be. The clothes were all immaculate, hanging neatly on rails, and finding a pristine pair of jodhpurs that cost a few shillings and were a perfect fit was a pivotal moment in my life. I was hooked.

When we lived in England virtually all my clothes came from charity shops. That’s how I could afford to wear designer suits and evening dresses, bought at a fraction of their original price and still in new condition.

We don’t have that many charity or second-hand clothing shops here, but what we do have is what the French call “Chez Dior”, and the more down-to-earth English call “The Rag and Louse”. It’s a gigantic hangar behind a cement works, and it’s my favourite haunt when my wardrobe needs restocking.

If you can try to visualise the world’s biggest jumble sale after an earthquake, it will give some idea of the chaos that is the Rag and Louse. There are no hangers, no tables. The clothes lie in mountainous heaps on the floor, vaguely sectioned apart. There are men’s shirts, jeans, sports clothing, frocks, ladies coats, bedding, children’s clothing, lingerie, men’s jumpers, ladies’ jumpers, ski wear, scuba wear, swimwear, hats, shoes, blouses, wedding dresses, fabrics, handbags, work clothes, leather and fur coats. There is an unpleasant smell from the fumigation process which causes people to sneeze and cough. Vast trolleys of new stock are constantly arriving.

Photography is not allowed, but this might give some idea of the scene.

There is no easy way to find what you want. You just have to do what everybody else does, and dive into or onto a pile and start rummaging. See a flash of a colour you like, and pull. Pull! Eventually it will emerge from the pile so you can see if it’s what you hoped for. Hardened shoppers sit on top of piles and methodically work their way through them, often in pairs. There’s a primitive changing room behind a curtain. Don’t think that everything is worn out, stained or torn. Some of it is, but there are also plenty of new clothes still with their price tags on them. Like panning for gold, you just have to sift through a lot of mud to find a nugget.

Are you horrified? It’s no place for the precious or the snob. But for bargain hunters it can be a gold mine. One of my French friends, a senior fonctionnaire and the chicest lady you’ll ever see, buys most of her clothes there and always looks as if she’s stepped out of the pages of Vogue.

It’s a popular haunt for traders who snap up leather and denim by the van load for resale.

When a trolley load has been treated with whatever it is they treat it with, the trolley is wheeled to the centre of the hangar, where one of the staff sorts the contents rapidly, tossing them into wooden bins surrounded by shoppers keen to have first dibs. This is the hub of the place, and the ladies (it’s not really a man thing, here) chatter and laugh while grabbing at flying garments.

I don’t know how the conversation started yesterday, as I had only just managed to squeeze between two ladies guarding the bins, but the lady sorting the stuff from the trolley said loud and clear, in English: “A little bit.”

There was uproar, the ladies laughing as tears ran down their cheeks, clutching at each other, and temporarily forgetting the clothes flying past them.

If you don’t speak French, this will mean nothing to you, but if you do, you’ll know why a little bit (pronounced with a French accent) caused such mirth amongst the ladies. :D

I came home with a gorgeous skirt, beautiful two-piece outfit, blinding white fancy top, chic black top and soft cashmere sweater.

Oh, did I mention the price? You pay by weight. My purchases cost €6.90. :)

Katherine Gallagher to present a Stevie Smith workshop at the Charroux Literary Festival August 2015

Originally posted on Charroux Literary Festival:

Katherine Gallagher will be presenting a workshop ‘Not waving but drowning’* based on the work  and life of the poet Stevie Smith.  Thursday 27th August 2015 10.30-12.30. Katherine comments that Smith is heartbreakingly alert, sad, witty, funny, and has an enormous range of poems from the comic to the tragic to the fantastical. She engages with myths and fairy tales, always roaming from the bizarre to the tragic.

*© Stevie Smith   (From Not Waving But Drowning, 1957)

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